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How to Prove a Confession was Coerced

June 17, 2020

By Van Der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin

A troubling story has come out of Williamsport after law enforcement officers suspected a man of killing a convenience store customer and injuring the clerk. According to the story, the police officers were trying to coerce a confession out of the suspect, even leaving him to urinate in a bottle after they ignored his requests to go to the restroom. Eventually, the suspect did make incriminating statements and he is now being held in custody awaiting his trial.

Unfortunately, coercing a confession from a suspect is not restricted to the Williamsport law enforcement. It happens quite frequently and, although a confession is detrimental for defendants, there are ways to defend against it.

Why People Confess to Crime They Did Not Commit

For many people, confessing to a crime they did not commit is unthinkable. However, people do it for many reasons. The most common include:

  • Perceived or real intimidation by law enforcement
  • Perceived or real use of force by law enforcement during an interrogation
  • The suspect no longer has the ability to think rationally due to stress, exhaustion, hunger, and even mental limitations
  • Deceptive interrogation techniques, such as telling the suspect the evidence against them is ironclad when law enforcement does not have any evidence
  • Fear of a harsher punishment if the suspect does not confess

All of these tactics are considered coercion, and they should never be used against a suspect.

How to Prove a Confession was Coerced

Confessions are extremely damaging to a case and once one is provided, it is difficult to take it back or prove it untrue. The courts will typically consider if law enforcement respected the rights of the defendant, such as reading the Miranda warning and allowing the suspect to speak to their attorney. If the court finds that these rights were not upheld prior to the confession, they may throw the confession out.

One of the most effective ways to prove that a confession was coerced is to record the interrogations. When an interrogation is recorded, it is easier to determine if the defendant’s rights were violated, if law enforcement used deceptive or coercive tactics to secure the confession, and to depict mental limitations the defendant may have that led to the coerced confession. Currently, Pennsylvania is not among the states that require recorded interrogations, even though guidelines among different jurisdictions vary.

Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers can Help with Your Case

Coerced confessions cannot be used as evidence in a criminal trial, and other types of evidence can also be deemed inadmissible if a defendant’s rights were violated. If you have been charged and do not feel as though your rights were upheld, our Allentown criminal defense lawyers at van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim can help. We know how to prove law enforcement infringed on your rights to get incriminating evidence thrown out of court and to give you the best chance of success with your case. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online to schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys.

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